Interview with JosAnn Cutajar, Ph.D.

When did you first start writing? What motivated you to become an author?
I started writing when I was seven years old. I got bronchitis and was in bed for a long time, so to pass the time I read a lot of books, including those by Charles Dickens. I was so fascinated by what I read that I decided to try and emulate major writers and write my own book.

I grew up writing essays in English and winning school prizes. At the undergraduate level, I chose to specialize in English. Midway through the course, I realized that learning about writing in English would not help to raise consciousness about social issues, so I had a mid-course crisis. But I stuck with the course, then opted to specialize in sociology, namely feminist and critical sociology, at the postgraduate level.

Feminist and critical sociology is based on the premise that sociologists study people with the intention of giving voice to the oppressed, raising awareness about social injustice, to bring about social change. I have written many papers which have been published in international, peer-reviewed journals. I have also written chapters in scholarly books and co-edited two textbooks on sociological issues in the Maltese Islands.
What is the story behind your latest book?
My latest book entitled Bormla: A Struggling Community, set to be released by FARAXA Publishing this month, was written when I met my husband who is from Bormla - the small, impoverished, marginalized but very warm-hearted community in the south of Malta and which the book focuses on. My husband used to try and explain what it really meant to be from Bormla and I used to counter the statements he made by resorting to received perceptions of the place. These interactions spurred me to want to know more about the people who lived in this community, this city; how they thought about themselves and their sense of belonging, and how all of the above impacted the choices they made in life.

I wanted to find out whether received perceptions of certain places were based on ‘real’ facts or if they were just social constructions which served political objectives and agendas. In Bormla: A Struggling Community, I used both quantitative and qualitative research methods, namely a needs assessment survey and an ethnographic study, to find out what the residents of Bormla felt about living there, what resources were available to them and how satisfied were they with the services they utilized.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
For me, the fieldwork or “fact-finding mission” is the most interesting part of the whole project and my writing it all up. You get to meet people, see their points of view, learn more about their concerns and how these concerns can be effectively addressed.
What are you working on next?
I am interested in carrying out research studies on how medical professionals deal with patients and their carers, and in turn the carers’ relationships with the people they care for. My father just had a nasty accident and this has shown us the underbelly of what it means to depend on the decisions taken by experts, whose dependence on machines and technology to measure the workings of the body in turn, means that they have often lost sight of the fact that they are dealing with people with feelings.
What is your writing process?
I start by reading a lot about the subject matter at hand. I steep myself into the literature, then take a break. Then follows the planning stage: I decide how to carry out the research, with whom and when.

I work full-time and have a young kid to raise, so time is an issue. Interviewing people and transcribing interviews takes a lot of time, but meeting people is also a great learning process. I design the study questionnaires. After interviews and interactions with people at the local level, I then input the data and analyze them.

The writing stage is very interesting. It is like solving a skein of tangled wool. You have a lot of information, but you need to untangle it and knit it into something new and pertinent. The challenge is to decide what information goes where and how to position or incorporate it into the text. I build the final text by including one bit of information at a time.
Where did you grow up and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up on the tiny island of Gozo which is part of the Maltese archipelago. From a tender age, I realized that decision makers promote certain places over others, which means that residents who lived in certain areas often do not enjoy the same standards of living as their cohorts living in other areas. Growing up in Gozo also taught me that when this happens, communities tend to help each other, to overcome these limitations. These resources, human or not, help communities survive inequities.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My daughter! I write with the hope that by raising awareness, the world becomes a better place for her to live in. I would also like to see children, especially those who lack material means, to have access to the same resources as their national cohorts, whether this is access to library books, education, healthcare or entertainment.
When you are not writing, how do you spend your time?
I read a lot and like meeting people – those regarded as “the common people” because they have much to teach me. I like hearing their stories and working out how these stories all point to the micro-inequities they have to experience on a daily basis. In some cases, I question why they have to suffer if there are services which can help them. These services might not be on offer in their localities, or if they are on offer, they may be of inferior quality.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Unfortunately, I do not remember the first story I wrote. Other stories come to mind, but not the first one.
What do you read for pleasure?
I like reading crime fiction. The detectives in books always solve the tangled skeins in the end, something that rarely happens in real life. I like the way crime writers gradually fill in the pictures for us and build up tension, but at the end help to release it. Makes up for the frustrations we face in real life, where problems are not always solved or solvable. I also like to read stories about ordinary people like Maeve Binchy, Jodi Picoult or Toni Maguire.
Published 2014-02-14.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Bormla: A Struggling Community
Price: $49.00 USD. Words: 102,690. Language: English. Published: February 14, 2014 by FARAXA Publishing (USA). Categories: Nonfiction » Social Science » Sociology / Urban, Nonfiction » Social Science » Research
Bormla: A Struggling Community is a landmark, mixed methods study in which JosAnn Cutajar presents the current situation of the people of this impoverished, historical, European city in the Maltese Islands. Measures that can be taken by the community, the nation and politicians are also presented, to heal the social ills of this city.